How easy is it to travel Peru as a veg(etari)an?

Lately, we have come across a number of misleading information on the Internet about facilities for vegetarians and vegans in Peru. Having organized tours for vegetarians and vegans for the last 25 years in Peru, first partnering with Vegi Ventures from the UK and in the recent years through our own company Vegetarian Peru Adventures, I continue to find veg(etari)an travel in Peru a challenge – even in the tourist areas.

Whilst it is true that in general Peruvian cuisine has taken a 150% turn over the last 30 years and now offers a whole range of new exciting Andean fusion meals, some prepared with protein- and mineral-rich superfoods such as quinoa, amaranth or chia, the standard offers for veg(etari)ans are still extremely limited.

How you fare might depend on your attitude: if you are an independent traveler and opt for staying in an AirBnB you can prepare your own food and you will be fine. If you wish to travel and explore, however, you may already run into trouble. Although there are a number of veg(etari)an restaurants that have come into existence during the last years in and around Cusco, sadly we patronize very few, as we are seriously concerned about how safe they are. Even 30 years in Peru have not made me immune to the bacteria that are endemic and prevalent in South America: typhoid fever, shigella, giardia, amoebic dysentery, Escherichia coli… to name a few.  Our main concern is therefore not that the restaurants we choose for taking our guests should be veg(etari)an, but whether they meet our criteria of hygiene and safety. In many cases, we also prefer to prepare our own home-cooked lunches for our guests.

Although some restaurants label vegetarian and vegan dishes on their menus, the reality is that their staff might have no idea what this means. Recently we ate in a smart restaurant in the sacred valley and ordered a dish that was marked as ‘vegan’. First, it arrived with cheese on top, then it came seasoned with butter…  Also, most bread is NOT vegan in Peru.

Rather than exposing our guests to unnecessary risks of catching the famous ‘Inka steps’ we prefer to use trusted restaurants with a good record of food safety to cook our veg(etari)an meals especially for us. In many cases, we have prepared the chefs personally to meet our special requirements. We make sure that they understand and honor our diet, and if necessary, we send them our own recipes. Thus we also avoid that our guests will repeatedly sample the same dishes but get to taste a variety of both Andean and international delicious and healthy meals.

Tips on how to stay healthy in Peru:

  • Avoid all raw unpeeled fruit and vegetables (especially lettuce). The chances are that they were not disinfected properly
  • Make sure your juices are made with boiled or bottled water only
  • Avoid ice in your drinks
  • Avoid all milk products that have not been pasteurized
  • Avoid eggs (including Pisco Sour and mayonnaise)
  • Avoid deep fried foods
  • Avoid stale foods (especially chili sauces kept for several days in the fridge)
  • Do not consume raisins purchased at the markets
  • Do not eat food from artisanal street stalls
  • Wash and disinfect your hands before eating

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